Life sucking meetings

I’ve worked for a number of companies ranging from startups to large companies with over 50,000 employees. If I’ve learned anything it’s this: The larger the company you work for, the more time you’ll spend in life sucking meetings.

When I worked for the Microsoft Office group, we’d have weekly meetings that included 40+ attendees. Even the smallest issues were debated ad nauseam until only the least risky ideas were given the green light. There’s just no way 40 people can agree on anything remotely daring or uncharted. I’m not exaggerating when I say some weeks included 25 hours worth of meetings. It was the most boring, least productive period of my career.  meetings

The worst type of meetings are recurring ones. These are scheduled and attended by those who have nothing to do except plan and attend meetings. Nothing gets done because any decision can be pushed off to next week’s scheduled meeting. It’s one, big, ongoing productivity suck. Avoid these like Vista the plague. If you can’t outright avoid them then schedule real work on top of them. Go visit your best client. Go visit a client who recently chose a competitor. It doesn’t matter what you do because even if you drive around the parking lot thinking of ways to improve your fantasy football team, it will be a better use of your time than spending it in a meeting that’s been on your calendar since the last Haley’s comet.

The next time you receive a meeting request in your inbox, consider declining it. I’m convinced that, like jury duty, participation leads to more invitations  Decline a few and you might find yourself left off the next invite. This is EXACTLY what you want. Spend this time doing real work and you’ll be that much further ahead.

If you must attend a meeting, try to weed out those people who are just tagging along for the ride to avoid real work. Many of these people have nothing better to do than toss out phantom issues. They live to kill good ideas. They start every sentence with, “Yes, but I have some concerns with….” Basically, they like to hear themselves speak. Tell these people that you’ll take notes while they stay behind shopping on eBay. The fewer people in the meeting, the better chance you have of making it productive for everyone. 

Never show up early for a meeting. You’re better off timing your entrance as close to the start time as possible. That way, you can make a quick drive-by and see if there are more than five people in the meeting. If you spot more than five keep on walking. A meeting with more than about five people is a waste of time. It will be very tough to gain consensus with more than five.

One of the best meetings I attended began with the meeting organizer going around the room asking everyone to state why they were there and what they hoped to gain. If someone didn’t have a reason beyond, “I dunno, I was just invited” he sent them out of the room. Our meeting of 15 was quickly whittled down to 4. That was 8 years ago and I still remember what we discussed. Can you say that about any meeting you’ve had this week?

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